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Bargaintown: The Dublin of the 1980s was 'beautiful, not bleak'

See images of a lost city.

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“IT WAS SUCH a unique era in time. Just before the buildings were torn down or completely made over. It was obvious it was going to change soon.”

WHEN DAVID JAZAY landed in Ireland in the autumn of 1982, he wasn’t expecting to fall in love.

But he did. With Dublin.

More than 30 years later, the affair endures.

Now a film director, photographer and artist, the German is bringing Bargaintown, a film about Dublin of old, home.  

The Dublin of 1988.

The Dublin before the Celtic Tiger, before the bust.

The vanished city of auctions at Tormey Brothers, of nights of song and dance in the old Workingman’s Club and Frank Quigley blues performances.

PastedImage-70307 Auction at Tormey Brothers', Lower Ormond Quay.

Jazay speaks to the barmen, the bartenders, the antique dealers, children playing on the streets and the residents about their lives and opinions just before an economic boom was about to change the very fabric of their city.

“There were 10 or 12 auction rooms between O’Connell Bridge and half-mile down the river,” one tells the young man behind the camera.

Right up to the late 1960s, they were in full swing. Two or three auctions every day from Monday to Friday. People went to auctions to buy second-hand furniture, not antiques or fine art.

During filming, a mattress and a suitcase is sold during one of these auctions.

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The economy wasn’t the only thing ravaging the quays. Fires were also gutting buildings.

“We have an alarm system and a fire system and we check and double check all the time,” says one publican.

“There is talk of them restoring the quays back to where they were. I’d like to see them restore the good old buildings or put up the same buildings there was in the beginning,” says another.

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A barman recalls his previous business on Dame Street which was recently replaced by the modern-looking Central Bank.

“We had the place down in Dame Street which is now known as the Central Bank,” he recalled.

There was nothing wrong with that building but it was just torn down brick by brick. Numbers were put on the stones so they could be re-erected again but that never happened. It became the Central Bank.

To Jazay, the teenager, the undeveloped and derelict Liffey Quays were beautiful, not bleak.

“It was like a big adventure playground,” he recalls. “It was exciting. It gave me a sense of white space and colour schemes that were visually very stunning…especially for a continental European.”

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Patrick Gallagher of Martin+Joyce’s Butcher shop, the last working premise in this block of Benburb Street, Dublin. Photograph taken in 1992, diptych assembly in 2014.

Last year, he released exhibition shots which captured the entire area before redevelopment but used modern methods to enhance the quality of the photography.

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Dublin Bazaar, Thomas Street West, showing typical period advertising, and a salesman. Photographs taken in August 1988, combined into a diptych in 2014.

The film itself was made at the end of the 1980s as part of a discussion about what should happen the quays.

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He says he wanted to portray the inner city as “alive” and not a derelict space.

“I had this vision of beauty, grand architectural heritage and a face of the city that was only appreciated by very few people.”

PastedImage-81887 Catherine Walsh, of Walsh’s Takeaway, King Street North, Dublin, 1988

He explains that caring about the architectural heritage at that stage in the ’80s was an “exotic concern” given the grave economic problems.

Through his images and film, he wants to show the way of life that is now gone, recreating time and space in a myriad of ways. He focuses on the corner shops that are no longer trading, the family businesses that were cherished and the auction houses that were numerous in the area.

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T.J. Downing’s grocery shop on Benburb Street, Dublin, with Mr. Downing. Photographs taken in 1992, assembled to diptych in 2014

“At that time in history, the buildings were very rich in layers. You could see the origin in the Georgian buildings, and then the additions and the repairs. The signs of people living there for centuries. They are a rich, layer-cake of history.”

But as one resident notes, that heritage was slowly eroded.

“I could go on forever about the destruction – the quays and old Dublin. There’s not really much of it left except the good buildings around Grafton Street – more the upper class areas where they won’t touch.”

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Jazay will bring his film to Dublin for the first time on 27 September. It will be shown in the IFI as part of its documentary festival DocFest.

To see more, check out David Jazay’s website. To book at ticket, visit the IFI’s website

Dublin Before the Tiger: Incredibly detailed images of the city in the 1980s

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